The Federal Government should emulate the Hong Kong government to set up Geotechnical Engineering Office (GEO) to spearhead the upgrading and maintenance of the slopes as well as promoting public awareness to improve slope safety, as a pre-requisite to land development for building and infrastructure construction.
Slopes are found in many states amidst urban developments especially Penang. It is essential that they are properly maintained and landscaped to enhance the city outlook.
The Hong Kong government learnt their lessons from repeated fatal landslide disasters which took more than 470 lives 30 years back. They set up Geotechnical Engineering Office (formerly called Geotechnical Control Office) of the Civil Engineering and Development Department , they also set up a comprehensive Slope Safety System to reduce landslide risk to as low as practically achievable.
Today, they have successfully reduced the landslide risk; this is reflected in the substantial drop in the landslide fatality rate.
How many more Highland Tower and Bukit Antarabangsa tragedies do we need to experience before the government takes measures and precautions such as those practiced in Hong Kong?
The Landslide Risk Reduction Strategies of the Hong Kong goverment are as follows:
Following its establishment, the Geotechnical Control Office (GCO) developed an overall landslide risk reduction strategy. It is made up of three main goals, with associated mechanisms for achieving them:
A. Minimize Risk Arising from New Developments
The GEO checks all new slopes formed to ensure that they are designed to current safety standards, and geotechnical considerations are now incorporated at the earliest stages of land use planning. In this way, risks associated with new developments are kept small, and this has helped substantially slow down the overall trend of growth in landslide risk.
B. Reduce Risk by Improving the Stability of Existing Slopes
The HK government has developed an ongoing programme that involves systematically selecting and studying all government slopes, followed by maintenance and the upgrading of any that prove substandard. When it comes to privately-owned slopes, the government actively encourages their owners to maintain them regularly and upgrade them, if found necessary.
1. Upgrade Government Slopes
Since 1976, the GEO has begun to implement an ongoing Landslip Preventive Measures (LPM) Programme with the objective of upgrading these old man-made government slopes and retaining walls.
To ensure that it selected the ‘correct’ slopes for upgrading, the GEO developed a risk-based priority classification system utilizing the results of Quantitative Risk Assessment, and created a Slope Catalogue containing essential information for the systematic selection of substandard slopes.
A five-year accelerated LPM Programme was introduced in 1995 as a result of the 1994 Kwun Lung Lau failure, involving total capital expenditure of HK$2.9 billion. In the extended 10-year LPM Programme (2000-2010), the government has committed to upgrading 2,500 substandard government slopes and retaining walls, with an estimated cost of around HK$9 billion at March 1999 prices.
2. Maintain all Government Slopes
There are about 57,000 man-made slopes registered in the Catalogue of Slopes. The government systematically maintains all its 39,000 government slopes through the slope maintenance programmes of the relevant works departments.
The GEO provides these works departments with guidelines for the slope maintenance programme, and conducts slope maintenance audits to help them improve their slope maintenance works. The government’s current annual expenditure on slope maintenance is about HK$600 million.
3. Promote the Maintenance of Private Slopes
The GEO carries out safety screening for private slopes as part of the LPM Programme. If any existing private slope is considered to be dangerous or liable to become dangerous, the GEO recommends the Building Authority to serve a Dangerous Hillside (DH) Order on the private owners. They must then investigate the slope and propose any remedial works.
A dedicated “Community Advisory Unit” (CAU) has also been set up within the GEO, with the task of helping private slope owners undertake their slope maintenance responsibilities. The unit performs direct community outreach advisory services, and provides slope owners with all the relevant information they need.
C. Reduce Risk by Minimizing the Possible Consequences of Landslides
It is also involved in educating the public about appropriate precautions to take during heavy rain. It has established a Landslip Warning System that alerts the public to any potential landslide danger. In addition, the GEO operates a 24-hour emergency service, providing geotechnical advice to various government departments on steps that should be taken after a landslide incident. The primary objective of this service is to protect the public from hazards associated with landslides.
Landslip Warning – Educate The Public to Take Precautions
The most important thing is the involvement of the general public in taking precaution measures. GEO has developed a comprehensive proactive strategy to educate the public to take the necessary precautions especially when the Landslip Warning is in force. It involves partnership with the community in promoting public awareness of slope safety through education, public campaigns and information services.
30th Anniversary Brochure,
Geotechnical Engineering Office
Civil Engineering and Development Department